What Inspired Bill to fly? No-one is really sure. When asked, he refers to his childhood longing to fly like the birds.
In the early 70’s Bill and his young family (wife Paula and son Aaron) moved from their one-room school house in Brougham Ontario to a 100 Acre Property located on a ridge in between Port Perry and Oshawa, in the hamlet of Purple Hill (I think it could be called a hamlet, there were at the time only about 4 families living there). The move had been initiated by the Federal government who had expropriated the school house for the proposed Pickering airport. The airport has still not materialized and hopefully never will. More on this story in Bill’s autobigraphical Father Goose.
A friend and neighbor from Claremont Ontario, Michael Robertson, had become interested in the newly developed sport of Hang Gliding, and found one of the hills behind Bill’s new home a great place to practice foot launching his early Rogallo Wing Gliders. Bill, not wanting to miss out on the fun purchased a revolutionary fixed-wing glider called the Easy Riser, a bi-wing craft designed in California by Larry Mauro. Bill Practiced foot launching from his back yard with varying degrees of success. Steering on the riser was controlled by two drag rudders, mounted between the wingtips. To turn you twisted the bars under your armpits that you hang from. Pitch control was by weight shift, leaning forward made you go down and backward made you tilt upwards.
Tired of endlessly hauling the glider back up the hill, Bill took the next step and bolted an 8 horsepower go-kart engine on to the back of the glider, carved himself a propeller and on a fateful day in 1978 made Canadian aviation history by becoming the first in our Country to foot-launch a rigid winged powered aircraft.
The first flights were quite dangerous, and the footage is classic, see the video links below. Soon enough, foot launching lost it’s romance (probably about the same time that the heel of his running shoe exploded one of the hand-carved props), and the riser, with a high thrust line and weight shift pitch control was inherently unstable. Hanging from those cross bars by the armpits couldn’t have been much fun either.
The evolution of the aircraft that was finally used to imprint and train the geese happened over a period of about 6 years, and not always smooth. With Bill as the designer, engineer, fabricator and test pilot it is surprising how few injuries were sustained. There were a number of setbacks, including a broken tailbone, and a hanger that collapsed due to snow load destroying the ultralight. The final version was quite a step up from the old foot launch powered glider, and featured a tail fashioned from two drag rudders, a Chrome-Molly tricycle landing gear with steerable nose-wheel, bungee cord suspension, and a reliable 3 cylinder 2 stroke Konig engine capable of producing 24 horsepower. The pilot no longer had to hang from his armpits but was seated comfortably in a swing seat and controlled the pitch with a joystick.
Though the modified Easy-Riser was excellent for working with the geese, it was not the ideal aircraft for long distance migration. The riser’s small fuel tank gave it limited range, and it’s underpowered engine made take-offs in tight spaces difficult or impossible. Parts were hard to come by or had to be fabricated. Bill and Joe Duff, a photographer and avid ultralight pilot from Toronto decided a different type of aircraft was needed for their 1993 migration from Purple Hill to Virginia. They came up with the Idea of using a modified trike design. The trike consists of a hang-glider wing with A-frame controller above a tricycle landing gear configuration. After researching several manufacturers they determined the Cosmos, designed and manufactured in France was the right machine. It has the power needed to get out of short fields and, with the larger wing, was able to fly slowly enough for the birds. Operation Migration has had great success with the trikes and currently employs at least three for their On-going migration experiments with cranes. These versatile aircraft come in single or dual seat configurations and have very reliable Rotax engines. The wings detach quite easily and roll up into a tube for easy trailering. The Columbia movie FLY AWAY HOME featured both the trike and the Easy Riser.